Give The Mother-Land Some! Def Jam Has Been Launched In Africa

The iconic hip hop record label, Def Jam is opening up shop in Africa. The label is taking its talents to Johannesburg and Lagos, under the auspices of its parent company Universal Music Group.
However, UMG has been expanding its base across Africa for the last couple of years.

Def Jam, was founded by Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin. The visionary duo helped launch and corporatize hip hop to the world in the early 1980s. With genre-defining artists like Run DMC, LL Cool J, and the Beastie Boys, the label’s fingerprints are all over the culture.

The New York-based organization evolved into a major multinational label years ago. However, placing an emphasis on Africa and developing a Def Jam infrastructure internally is major.

No label head has been named yet for Def Jam Africa, but they currently are searching for one. Currently, Sipho Dlamini, UMG Sub Saharan Africa/South Africa chief will oversee the project, in addition to, A&R, marketing, and promotional teams.

“Def Jam has also been a mark of quality in hip-hop and so it was a natural fit,” says Dlamini.”Whilst it looks to Def Jam’s historical blueprint for artist development, cultural impact, and hopefully global success, the Def Jam Africa identity, and sound will come from Africa.”

The Squad

Def Jam Africa has already announced a flagship roster of artists. They include established hip hop acts Cassper Nyovest, Nasty C, Nadia Nakai and Boity (South Africa), and Nigerian Afrobeats act Larry Gaaga.
The label is the first of Universal Music Group’s flagship labels to exist as a standalone in Africa. To date, everything had been released under the general “UMG Africa” banner.

“This way, you have a team that is solely working these artists, so that they understand the DNA of the label,” said Dlamini, “and the importance of developing quality and authenticity of the sound, that has a focused roster of talent that reflects those values.”

The move is not surprising with the global rise of Nigeria/Ghana’s Afrobeats and South Africa’s gqom/House on mainstream global pop charts. Artists like Nigeria’s Davido and WizKid and South Africa’s Black Coffee and Distruction Boyz are killing it worldwide.

The continent is rich with undiscovered talent. Many Africans in markets outside of sexy South Africa have an abundance of talent. There are also thousands of independent labels and artist managers, but sans formal distribution and legal infrastructure, has frozen many from the $50 billion global entertainment industry across recording music, publishing, TV/film, and live performances.

Universal is not alone.

Sony Music and more recently Warner Music Group are also looking to build organically in Africa. The search for local strategic partnerships is afoot, alongside their respective A&R efforts, to establish a more formal music business imprint that plugs local music industries more seamlessly into the global ecosystem.

Rhett Butler is a Boxing Writer Association of America Journalist, Play-By-Play Commentator, Combat Sports Insider, and Former Mixed Martial Arts and Boxing Promoter. The New York City native honed his skills at various news outlets including but not limited to: TIME Magazine, Money Magazine, CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports, and more. Rhett hosts the PRITTY Left Hook podcast, a polarizing combat sports insider's take featuring the world's biggest names.